A mob of ravens has been blamed for mutilating and killing newborn lambs at a farm in Devon.
Russell Pearse, who farms in South Brent, said lambs and their mothers were particularly vulnerable after births in fields. The birds had picked on the weakest lambs viciously killing them.
But as they are protected species, the number of ravens are increasing.
Russell told Farmers Guardian he had been shocked by the number of ravens flocking to his fields.
He said: “When the lambs are born the ravens tend to gang up on the weaker one like lions with a zebra. I have never seen so many. But we are limited as to what we can do because they are a protected bird.”
He said they mutilate the lambs while they are still alive and then kill them.
Neighbouring farms are experiencing similar problems with ravens flocking in double figures and Mrs Pearse said they feared further attacks.
“Fortunately we have finished lambing now but there are still around 20 lambs in the field,” he added. “Three miles away from here the farmers have had nearly 100 ravens attacking the lambs.”
A petition was launched last year by Scottish farmer Danny Bisset launched a petition to remove ravens from the protected species list. He said the common raven should be added to the Scottish Natural Heritage’s general licence to allow the taking or killing of certain birds for the prevention of serious damage to livestock.
Raven attacks are a UK-wide problem, said National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker. “The problem has become worse with an expansion of raven numbers and distribution, and also the shift towards outdoor lambing,” said Mr Stocker.
“Like other species, a proportion of the raven population will develop behaviour that comes from prey opportunities, and once a tasty meal is found birds will go back for more.”
The association has had discussions over the problem with Natural England.
Mr Stocker said: “As a result we are aware of a small number of cases where sheep farmers have successfully applied for a licence to control raven damage by way of shooting an agreed number. We welcome this measure in instances where ravens are causing significant problems and would like to see this approach discussed more widely in relation to protected species generally.”
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